SMCC Grounds Supervisor Jeff Kelley returns after surviving a life-threatening ordeal

Jeff Kelley, a grounds supervisor at SMCC, returned to work months after fighting a life-threatening infection, losing a limb and enduring a grueling recovery.

L to R – Interim President Tiffanie Bentley, Grounds Supervisor Jeff Kelley, Facilities Daily Operations Supervisor Andrew Napoli and Dean of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management Jason Saucier

Jeff’s career at SMCC began in June 2017. He transitioned from a successful career in owning his lawn care company to seeking seasonal stability and the chance to serve his community in a more significant way. “I started in the dorms,” Kelley said. “I took pride in everything I did there. I respected how hard students work, so the least I could do was to make sure the buildings were comfortable in any way I could.” The students in his dorm recognized the effort by giving him a student leadership award in 2019. Soon after, Jeff was promoted to Grounds Supervisor, where he has been since.

In August of 2022, life changed quickly. After work on August 15, Kelley noticed a wound on his leg was worsening. After watching it grow, Kelley sought treatment, which landed him in the hospital that day. That visit would begin a harrowing three-month stretch in the hospital.

Kelley was dealing with a very rare bacterium called Vibrio vulnificus. Vibrio vulnificus is a type of bacteria that can cause a fatal infection. Maine CDC data says scientists only found 11 cases of the fungus in the state in 2021. The infection spread quickly. “Just in a few days, doctors had to resuscitate me three times. The infection taxed my heart and I went into cardiac arrest,” Kelley said. “I basically died three times and they had to bring me back.”

Kelley endured 14 painful surgeries over his four months in the hospital. For the last three, he had three different amputations of parts of his leg in just 29 days. Doctors first decided to amputate part of his right leg followed by a second amputation to remove his leg up to his knee. Lastly, doctors told Kelley they needed to take more of the leg, all the way to above the knee.

“You lie in bed and think your life is over,” Kelley said. “I was at an extremely low point. You feel disfigured and worthless. But with the support of my family, my faith, my coworkers and outreach from a couple of amputee organizations, I realized my life was far from over.”

A representative from Hangar Clinic in Portland helped him start the road to positive thinking.

“One of my reps from Hangar told me ‘You’re lying there, in pain, bleeding without part of your leg. Well you know what, you have a lot of your leg left. You also have a lot of life left.’ They helped me see I would be okay,” Kelley said.

Once Kelley was healed enough, he began Limb Loss Rehabilitation at Maine Strong Balance Centers (MSBC) in Scarborough, Maine. He found the work inspiring. “I just realized I could do it. I could recover. Everyone there helped me regain my life physically and mentally,” Kelley said. “Their positive approach helped me open up about other struggles in my life that I had never dealt with. They helped me see that I could also recover from mental trauma that had been packed away. They helped me in every conceivable way.” Kelley even helped other patients through their recovery. His positivity during rehab led them to share his journey on their social media pages.

“My only goal, from the first day I was in the hospital, was to get back to work. How could I get back to work,” Kelley said. ” I love my work. I love SMCC. I love my coworkers; they are just as much a part of my family as anyone. I knew I could walk again, but I never dreamt of the things I’ve already done and the things I will do soon.” Kelley said the people with Maine Adaptive took him to the next level. “I’ve been mountain biking, cycling of all kinds. I’ve played pickleball and just signed up for a six-week rock climbing course. It’s crazy!”

“I have been impressed every day by Jeff’s resilience, perseverance and unwavering positive attitude in the face of adversity,” SMCC Interim President Tiffanie Bentley said. “Jeff is the best of us, and we are so glad to have him back.”

He refuses to accept negativity in his situation. “The support I received from my wife and my two children…I owed it to them to be positive. They are the reason I survived,” Kelley said. “My boss Bob Morrissey and my coworkers lifted me up every day by texting me. The SMCC team always ensured I knew they were there for any support I needed. All the doctors, nurses and organizations that rallied to help me, how could I not be positive? I’m so lucky! I’m so happy to be back at work. I’m home.”